How Should Barcelona Play This Season?
FC Barcelona had a notoriously disappointing campaign last season; after failing to win both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey after humiliating losses at the hands of Liverpool and Valencia respectively. Barcelona, however, managed to win La Liga by a great margin, which in turn is not as impressive considering the poor form both Real Madrid and Atlético were in last season.
Barcelona's main problem was a lack of attacking power, which stemmed from a complete dependence on Lionel Messi to provide and score for the Catalans. While there were other aspects of the game that were at fault for the poor season, like an inconsistent midfield and a lacklustre defence, outside of Piqué and Ter Stegen, the main problem for the team were their holes in attack, again, because of their heavy dependence on Messi to carry all the attacking load.
Not everyone is suited to play alongside Messi, only very strong personalities will thrive alongside him. Like I've mentioned in previous articles, only players willing to play alongside or over the Argentinian will succeed at the Camp Nou. It is impossible to become a star in the Barcelona team if you play expecting Messi to carry the load, as shown by the disappointing season Coutinho, and in smaller measure, Dembélé had. They didn't understand that they needed to be as productive as Messi, not let him do all of the work, because if the time comes when Messi is out of ideas, and he has been in the past, another player needs to step up. In the MSN era, when Messi wasn't having his night, Neymar would step up and take over games just as he did that night in Paris (What a game, I still get chills thinking about it). That's why it was crucial that Barcelona reinforce their front line this season and they have done just that by signing French World Cup winner, Antoine Griezmann from Atlético Madrid.
Today we will have a look at the game plans and playing options Barcelona have for next season. ATTENTION! This article will include Neymar as a Barcelona player (I know he hasn't signed yet but whatever, bite me).
Option 1: (4-2-3-1) Top-Heavy team
The first option and my personal favourite would consist of a 4-2-3-1 formation with a loaded attack featuring Neymar, Messi, Suaréz and Griezmann. This formation would play the classic back four with Ter Stegen in goal, Sergi Roberto (personal favourite) or Semedo on the right side, Lenglet or Umtiti (depending on who gets included in the trade for Neymar) and Piqué at centre back and Jordi Alba at left back.
The number '2' would be Frenkie de Jong and Busquets at the defensive pivot position as the only real midfielders of the team. De Jong and Busquet's unparalleled ability to defend and see the field of play like no one else, should allow them to hold the line and get the ball forward to the front 4 without problem. While this midfield breaks with the classic Barcelona 3, it would be a welcomed change, swapping a dominant midfield for a dominant attack. Busquets would act mainly as a third centre back and a forward distributor while the full backs run in behind the wingers, De Jong would be the one to hold the balance between the back and the front anchoring the entire team together.
Just in front of the midfield, we would have a front three behind a lone striker, Luis Suaréz, whose job would be to get in behind the defence for long balls, hold the ball for the counter and get into the box to finish chances. Behind Suaréz, Barcelona could play their three best players: Neymar on the left Griezmann on the middle and Messi on the right. The choice to put Neymar on the left needs no explanation; with Ronaldo moving to the striker position he is without a doubt the best left winger in the world despite a disappointing season in Paris, so him playing down the left side of the Camp Nou again would be the easiest decision for Valverde (or a possible new coach) to make. Now, these two are interchangeable depending of where Griezmann feels more comfortable. My personal preference would be to see Messi on the right and Griezmann in the middle since Messi is at his best there and Griezmann is more of a false '9' than a pure striker, he excels at providing and getting forward so playing just behind Suaréz should be good for the Frenchman.
This would be the ideal formation for a team which needs to include 4 world class strikers into the line-up, it would, however, loose a lot of midfield dominance which is Barcelona's pride and glory, so it just becomes a question of whether or not the Catalans are willing to change their style of play in benefit of a trophy filled season.
Option 2: (4-2-1-3) Messi as The Team's Metronome
This option would be something very similar to the 4-2-3-1, with the same defence and a two pivot midfield, the change would be up front and at the forward midfield. Barcelona's greatest years have come from playing a three man midfield with one defensive pivot and tow centre mids just in front. In this formation that would be inverted with two defensive pivots and one centre mid in front, in this case non other than Lionel Messi. This formation would give Messi the keys to the team, keys he already has, but none the less he would have the purest number '10' he's ever had to play in; acting as the team's metronome, just in behind the front three. The front three would be Neymar on the left, Griezmann on the right and Suaréz in the middle. This formation would somewhat put Griezmann to the test since playing at right wing position is not necessarily something he is good at or suited for.
This formation looks great but it would somehow mean that everything goes exclusively through Messi, something Barcelona can't afford to do if they want to win the Champions League.
Option 3: (4-3-3) Suaréz to The Bench
The usual Barça formation, the ol' reliable (this iteration of the 4-3-3 will account for the possibility of Neymar being on the team). The back 4 will remain just as in the previous two options. In this third possibility Barcelona would play with the classic pivot centre mid combo. Busquets in his favourite defensive centre mid role acting as the metronome of the team, controlling the rhythm of play and getting the ball from defence to attack. The two centre mids would be De Jong and Artur who would form a Iniesta-Xavi-like partnership bossing midfield all over Europe. The front three would be Neymar on his usual left side, Messi on the right and Griezmann as the central striker.
This formation would allow Barcelona to keep their usual possession heavy style of a play with a more balanced midfield, while also getting a ton of goals from an excellent front three. The only down-side to this formation: benching Luis Suaréz. Suaréz has not been his old self as of late, age might be getting to him and he will probably never get you 30 goals in a season ever again, so benching him would not be the worst possible choice. The question is whether Luis will be willing to sit out to get in late in games. This, however, looks to be the most likely formation for a Griezmann-Ney Barcelona since it doesn't seem at all likely that the Catalans would play 4 up front sacrificing their Tiki-Taka game.
Option 4: (4-3-3) No Neymar, Problems Up Front
If Barcelona are finally unable to get Neymar from PSG next season could smell trouble for the club, a 4-3-3 with the usual suspects in midfield and defence would mean Griezmann would have to likely play on the left, something he is not used to and honestly doesn't look to be suited for. Barcelona better hope they can sign Neymar or they might just have another Coutinho in their hands; a super star playing out of position. And if that's the case Barcelona are doomed for an even worse season come September 2019.
But what do you guys think Valverde should do? Discuss in the comments below.